• The president of the European Commission has visited Finland’s eastern border to learn about Russia’s instrumentalisation of migration and congratulated the Finnish government for its preparedness. 
  • The Hungarian prime minister has described the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum as “another nail in the coffin of the European Union”. 
  • The Polish prime minister has described the Pact as “unacceptable” and vowed to “protect Poland against the relocation mechanism”.
  • A new accommodation centre for asylum seekers in Liepna, Latvia is ‘working well’, according to the country’s public radio broadcasting network.
  • Lithuania is leaning towards making payments instead of hosting refugees when the implementation Pact implementation starts ‘solidarity scheme’ while the Slovakian prime minister has denounced the Pact’s solidarity mechanism as a “dictate”.

The Finnish government has announced that its border with Russia will remain closed indefinitely. The decision follows several closures and re-openings over the past five months. The government had previously attributed its decision to close the border to what it has described as Russia’s “instrumentalisation of migrants.” “Finnish authorities see this as a long-term situation. We have not seen anything this spring that would lead us to conclude that the situation has changed meaningfully,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in a statement. ECRE member organisation the Finnish Refugee Advice Center has questioned the government’s decision to close the borders and has advocated for “opening border crossing points and securing the rights of people seeking asylum in the standard asylum procedure”. “How is the latest decision to close the border “indefinitely” even possible when the Constitutional Committee has said that a short-term full closure is only possible in very exceptional circumstances?”, the center wrote on X, adding that “four months is not a short-term suspension, let alone an indefinite one”. Furthermore, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Nordic and Baltic Countries, the Finnish Red Cross, the Finnish Refugee Council, and the UN Association of Finland have issued a joint statement on the government’s recent decision. “We recognize the challenges faced by Finland. Finland has the right to control and manage its borders, yet this can be done in accordance with international and European law. It is never acceptable to instrumentalize asylum seekers and refugees to achieve political goals. (…) The right to seek asylum applies to everyone, regardless of the mode of entry. This includes individuals assessed to be “instruments of influence,” they wrote. On 19 April, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had a meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo in Lappeenranta close to the Finnish-Russian border. The two leaders discussed the issue of “instrumentalised migration” from Russia to Finland and possible measures to respond to it. Following the meeting, Von der Leyen X posted: “Europe should be more Finnish when it comes to security. (…) We have a lot to learn from your model of preparedness across all levels of society”. Orpo said that his government was preparing national legislation to combat the instrumentalisation of migration while underlining the need for European legislation as Russia continued to use “illegal immigrants” against the EU and its member states. He also said that the proposed legislation was not a “question of asylum” but a “question of security”.

Hungary has continued to oppose the EU Pact Asylum and Migration (the Pact) which was approved by the European Parliament (EP) on 10 April. According to the Budapest Times, in a discussion with his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, and the former head of the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) and current candidate MEP for the French right-wing National Rally party, Fabrice Leggeri, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said: “If we are not brave enough to say that everyone must stay outside the borders while a decision is being made on their application, then no matter what other decision is made, that will not work.” Orbán referred to the Pact as “another nail in the coffin of the European Union,” adding that “Unity is dead, secure borders are no more. Hungary will never give in to the mass migration frenzy! We need a change in Brussels in order to Stop Migration!”. Moreover, Orban’s Chief Security Advisor, György Bakondi, used a television appearance to criticise the Pact for being  “costly, inefficient, and more about managing migration than securing the safety of Hungarians and Europeans”. He also expressed hope that the next EP and European Commission (EC) would reconsider these decisions that he considered to be against European people’s interests and establish a system based on the needs of the people. The Hungarian government’s comments about the Pact will not have been well received by the EC. Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has warned that all EU member states that they must “implement it and apply [it]”. “If not, the Commission will of course act and use – if necessary – infringement [procedures],” she added. Elsewhere, ECRE member organisation the Hungarian Helsinki Committee (HHC) has issued a statement in which it decries the government’s recent decision to extend the so-called “state of crisis due to mass migration” that was introduced into Hungarian law in September 2015. The organisation has condemned the government’s “excessive and abusive use of emergency decrees”. It explained that under the sate of crisis, which is entering its ninth year, “special rules apply to third-country nationals irregularly entering and/or staying in Hungary and to those seeking asylum, and certain provisions of the Asylum Act are suspended”. Meanwhile, three cases have been communicated to the European Court of Human Rights by Amnesty International Hungary, HHC and the Open Society Institute Budapest Foundation. The applications all relate to the adoption of a law on the amendment of certain laws related to measures against “illegal migration” from 2018. The law in question (Act No. VI) introduced a new article to the Criminal Code which criminalises “facilitating or supporting illegal migration”.

Poland has also expressed its opposition to the Pact. Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said that the Pact was “unacceptable” and attacked the system of mandatory solidarity. “We will find ways so that even if the migration pact comes into force in roughly unchanged form, we will protect Poland against the relocation mechanism,” he told reporters. In March, Poland’s state audit reported that the country is “unable to cope” with immigration procedures due to insufficient staff. It found that applications for residence permits were taking an average of 12 months to process. In one case that the Supreme Audit Office (NIK) examined, an individual waited a record seven years for a decision. “Numerous cases of failures to take action or unjustified breaks in proceedings were found,” said the auditors. “The length of proceedings was sometimes shocking”. However, when the NIK simultaneously audited the processing of Polish passport applications by the same provincial offices, it found that documents were not issued on time and correctly in only one case out of the 120 it examined. To cope with the increased demand for processing foreigners’ applications, the NIK recommended that provincial offices ensure adequate staffing. Elsewhere, according to Notes from Poland, the government has also launched special search and rescue (SAR) teams to help migrants who have entered the country via the border with Belarus. The initiative is reportedly part of a more “humanitarian approach to the migration crisis” promised by the government, which also recently decided to modernise its barriers along the border with Belarus to prevent migrant crossings. According to the Polish Border Guard,  the teams are mandated to “provide assistance in the border area to migrants with an irregular legal status who have reached the Polish side, have lost their orientation in forests, wetlands or difficult-to-access areas, and whose life and health may be at risk,” said the border guard. However, NGOs are continuing to call on the authorities to stop pushbacks at the Poland-Belarus border. On 11 April, the NGO Grupa Granica reported pushbacks by Polish border guards despite intervention from the Ombudsman for Civil Rights and Deputy Marshal of the Senate Maciej Imoywno. Although the refugees had documents requesting asylum in Polish, “the guards claimed that the refugees spoke incomprehensible languages” and refused to accept their applications. “We know, that after the people were returned by the Polish Border Guard, the people were detained by the Belarusian service,” Grupa Granica said. Commenting on the launch of the SAR teams, the NGO Human Rights Watch made a clear recommendation to the Polish government in a recent statement. “A good starting point for the new Polish government to demonstrate it is serious about restoring the rule of law, which was eroded by the previous government, would be stopping the practice of migrant pushbacks at the country’s border with Belarus,” it wrote.

In Latvia, the accommodation facility for asylum seekers in Liepna (Alūksne district), which has been in operation for seven months, is “working well”, with no signs of problems among the local population, according to Radio Latvia. The building, which used to be a dormitory for a school that was closed six years ago, was renovated using EU funds. “The first floor has a foyer, a lounge, a classroom where you can study, a dining hall area, a prayer room, security and administration,” said the centre’s manager, Loreta Jargane. “In the beginning, the people of Liepna had concerns and resistance when the decision was made to transfer the building for such a purpose, but now, when we meet with the residents of Liepna, we understand that they have settled in and there are no problems,” said Ingus Berkulis, executive director of the municipality of Alūksne. “The plus in our case is these premises, which have been improved, jobs, residents of Alūksne work there, so there is income tax that goes into the municipality’s budget,” he added. The asylum seekers living in the centre, most of whom are from Syria, Afghanistan and India, “willingly get involved in the cultural life of the local community”, said Lienīte Trivole, a cultural work specialist at the Alūksne County Culture Centre. The people of Liepna have said that they would like to take asylum seekers as helpers on local farms, and the asylum seekers themselves told Latvian Radio that they want to work. However, it is difficult to employ a person who might get denied at any moment despite Latvian law allowing asylum seekers to work as they wait for a decision on their application. The waiting time for decisions is generally about six months. Abewe, whose application has been under consideration for that amount of time said, “Everything is good, but the paperwork is taking a long time”.

Elsewhere, the Lithuanian government has expressed interest in paying rather than taking part in the relocation scheme under the Pact’s solidarity mechanism. Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė announced that under the new rules, Lithuania would have to take in 158 migrants or pay € 3.16 million a year. “A rise in migration numbers definitely isn’t what Lithuania is aiming for, especially for the current period, therefore the president prefers a financial solution,” said the president’s Chief Economic and Social Policy Adviser, Irena Segalovičienė. The Lithuanian government’s measured response to the choices presented by the adoption of the Pact is in sharp contrast to Slovakia’s. The Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico has placed his country firmly in the group of EU member states that appear intent on refusing to implement the Pact. “We are saying unequivocally that you cannot order a country that it must accept, in the Slovak case, up to 300 migrants you know nothing about, or pay 20,000 euros for each migrant,” Fico told a press conference on 16 April. “That is not solidarity, that is a dictate,” he added.

For further information: